Monday, May 15

A great loss

Last Wednesday a great man died. His name was Major Pruitt.

Unless you're active in the conservative Jewish community in Portland you may not have heard of Major, but this one man touched thousands of lives in a way that we all could learn from.

For more than fifty years Major served as the sextant and caretaker to Congregation Ahava Shalom and, later, Congregation Neveh Shalom here in Portland. Not only did he take care of the buildings and the grounds, he took care of something far more important: the people who came there. Not only did he make sure the lights worked and the heat was on, he made sure everything was perfect for thousands of weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Not only did he know where every candlestick and lightbulb was in the synagogue, he made sure the elderly members of the congregation - especially those who were diabetic - got what they needed to make it through the High Holy Days. He installed the Ten Commandments above the Ark when they built the new synagogue, and he made sure bride and bridesmaids made it down the aisle in good order. He touched every aspect of life for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people over the past half century.

Major was not Jewish, but he knew more about Jewish tradition and ceremony than much of the congregation. He studied for hours in the congregation's library, learning the details of the complex Jewish calendar so that the congregations' records showed the right date.

He could be gruff and stubborn, but he gave the utmost respect to everyone and in doing so earned everyone's respect in return. He loved and was loved in return by all. Especially the children. Major's touch spanned generations: from wedding, to baby naming, to bar and bat mitzvah, to the next generation's weddings and baby namings, and the next. He knew everyone. He knew who was married to who, who was whose cousin, whose children had stayed in the area and whose had moved away (and to where). His phenomenal memory kept track of an astounding number of details about the lives of every member of a congregation than numbers nearly a thousand families. His "Hello, stranger" (by the Rabbi's own admission) could carry more weight than the admonition the clergy had for those who attended services less often than Major thought they should.

I am not a religious person, nor am I Jewish. I only knew Major for a fleetingly-brief time because my wife worked in the synagogue office a few years ago. But Major had a profound impact on me. I didn't even realize it until we got word that he had died. His funeral was today, and even though we are not members of the congregation there was absolutely no doubt in our minds that we needed to attend. As we sat in the sanctuary that Major cared for, with the people of the congregation that he cared for, and listened to the eulogies I realized that I finally understood the meaning of the word "mensch".

Thank you, Major. Thank you for showing us all how to be a good, tireless, honest, reliable, generous, humble, selfless human being. Rest now, Major, knowing that we have watched and learned from your example. The dedication and generosity, the caring and love you showed for the people of the community is astounding. May we all aspire to do even a fraction of the good you have done in this world.

1 comment:

  1. That's a moving tribute to a great man.